ATHENS -- Georgia coach Kirby Smart gave his former assistant coach a rude welcome to SEC play with a thoroughly dominant 40-13 victory at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
South Carolina first-year coach Shane Beamer was the Bulldogs’ special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach Smart’s first two seasons at Georgia. In his first conference contest, Beamer tried to take a few chances with his overmatched team on a steamy, hot night between the hedges. Those risks proved costly, and the Bulldogs were able to run away with the contest between the end of the second quarter and first few minutes of the third.
Meanwhile, Georgia welcomed quarterback JT Daniels back into the fold. Daniels, who missed the previous game with an oblique strain, started the game and played most of it. He passed for 303 yards and threw touchdowns to three different receivers – freshman Adonai Mitchell, Jermaine Burton and James Cook. Mitchell led the Bulldogs with four catches for 77 yards, including a 38-yard score. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers had five receptions for 53 yards.
It was Daniels’ first chance to play before a capacity crowd of 92,746 in a rocking night game at Sanford Stadium. He transferred to Georgia last year from Southern Cal and played
“Sanford and 92,000 is awesome,” said Daniels, a redshirt junior from Irvine, Calif. “I’ve never experienced a true home-field advantage like that. I’d hate to play against us in Sanford.”
Stetson Bennett, Georgia’s heroic fill-in in the lopsided win over Alabama-Birmingham last week, came in on the game’s third series and threw an interception on his first pass attempt. That was after Daniels was 8-of-9 passing with two touchdowns. Bennett did not play again until the fourth quarter with the Bulldogs holding a comfortable lead.
While Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC) clearly was the better team, it did not play a particular clean game. The Bulldogs had three turnovers on two interceptions and a fumble. That was particularly annoying to Smart.
“You can’t throw two interceptions and fumble once and be a winning football team,” Smart said.
Fortunately for Georgia, its defense made the miscues mostly inconsequential. The Bulldogs recorded an interception and fumble recovery of its own. They also added three more sacks to raise their season total to 13 and harassed South Carolina’s quarterbacks all night.
However, the Bulldogs allowed an opposing offense a touchdown for the first time this season. Cornerback Ameer Speed was beaten deep by South Carolina’s Josh Vann for a 36-yard touchdown with 10:55 remaining in the game. Vann finished with 128 yards on three catches, which doesn’t include a 31-yarder nullified by penalty.
Facing a lot of backups in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks managed to gain a season-high 310 yards on Georgia. Athens native Zeb Noland was injured and had to leave the game in the first quarter. But sophomore Luke Doty came off the bench to throw for 153 yards on 13-of-26 passing.
Considering it came in as a 30-point underdogs, South Carolina actually played a decent first half. But for their trouble, the Gamecocks went to their halftime locker room trailing 26-6.
That had a lot to do with some misplays by Beamer at the end of the half.
Leading 21-6 inside 45 seconds, the Bulldogs were forced to punt from midfield. Jake Camarda’s punt was downed by Ameer Speed on the Gamecocks’ 1-yard line.
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Not satisfied with going into halftime trailing by two scores, Beamer called Doty to throw deep out of the Gamecocks’ end zone with 32 seconds left in the half.
Georgia nose guard Jordan Davis broke free up the middle as Doty was trying to step up and unleash a pass. Nolan Smith got a piece, too, and the result was a safety and two points for the Bulldogs with 24 seconds remaining in the half.
Just as important, Georgia got the ball back.
The Bulldogs took over at their own 42 after Kenny McIntosh’s 28-yard return but had only 19 seconds to work with. Turns out, that was all Daniels would need to get Georgia into field goal range. He quickly completed passes to Brock Bowers and Burton totaling 30 yards, clocked the ball at 10 seconds, hit Kearis Jackson for another 9-yard gain and the Bulldogs used their final timeout to set up Jack Podlesny for a 36-yard field goal, which he made as the halftime horn sounded.
Georgia went from 21-6 ahead to 26-6 in 24 seconds.
“Situational football is critical,” said Smart, perhaps passing some advice on to Beamer. “We reps those exact situations every Thursday. ... That was a really good sequence to steal five points.”
The Bulldogs head back out the road next week to play Vanderbilt in Nashville (SECN, noon). The Commodores (1-2) lost at home 41-23 to Stanford.